Closed for business. Well, partially. Closed is the current reality for more than one-quarter of the government of the United States of America. For more than a month, these agencies have experienced some closure:
- Federal Aviation Administration
- Department of Agriculture
- Food and Drug Administration
- State Department
- Justice Department
- Commerce Department
- Department of Homeland Security
- Customs and Border Patrol
- Immigration and Customs Enforcement
- Transportation Safety Administration
- Secret Service
- The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services
- Treasury Department
- Internal Revenue Service
- Department of the Interior
- Environmental Protection Agency
- Department of Transportation
- Department of Housing and Urban Development
These agencies have been forced to furlough employees because their budgets failed to receive congressional approval on time causing the paychecks of nearly 800,000 employees to stop. To add insult to injury, portions of these agencies are deemed “essential” to national security and are forced to work without being paid. For the first time in American history, a branch of our armed forces, the US Coast Guard, is working without pay. The Coast Guard is part of the Department of Homeland Security, so it is not budgeted through the Defense Department as the other four branches are.
At the basement level, one issue is the reason for the shutdown – security. The president is telling the American people a crisis exists at our southern border. The American people have been made aware the nation is not safe due to the flow of illegal drugs and undocumented immigrants into our country. He has said to the American people that we need a wall built along the southern border at the cost of approximately 5.7 billion dollars which will make us safe and solve the security issue. Those on the other side of the aisle do not see things the same way and have refused to concede to this request. Since both sides could not compromise on a spending bill, the government of the United States was allowed to shut down on December 22nd partially. I am certainly oversimplifying this for there are other issues to be considered, but I think you get the picture. I want you to keep the matter of security in mind as you continue to read.
Back to those furloughed workers. If the shutdown continues through Friday, January 25th, those 800,000 employees will miss their second paycheck. The stress and strain of this financial burden will negatively affect these families if it has not done so already. Concerns that mortgages, insurance, medication, child care, college tuition, and other monthly bills will go unpaid must be at the forefront of the minds of these furloughed workers. While some may have been prepared for something like this, it is likely many were not. Before you say, “They should have been better prepared for something like this,” I have a question for you, “Are you prepared for something like this?” Could you miss two paychecks, two Social Security checks, two retirement checks, and life go on with no hardship or long-term ramifications?
The majority of the 800,000 furloughed workers remain at home while a smaller portion must continue to work; including agencies that are high-risk and involve overwhelming levels of responsibility: TSA, FAA, CBP, and ICE, among others. Imagine the personal stress, worry, and concern those who must continue to work carry with them to the job as if nothing is wrong. Yes, the livelihood of their families is always with them. Yes, the likelihood of this stress could lead to distraction.
Who needs a distracted air traffic controller in the tower who is responsible for managing America’s air travel worrying about being evicted from their home? With my wife flying to Japan next week, I don’t.
Who needs a distracted TSA agent whose responsibility it is to prevent harmful and potentially destructive substances from boarding America’s airlines to be worried about not being able to provide medication for a sick child? With my wife flying to Japan next week, I don’t.
Who needs a distracted FAA agent whose responsibility it is to maintain inspections of airplanes ensuring they are safe to fly to be worried about losing their place in a daycare program for their children because they cannot make payment? With my wife flying to Japan next week, I don’t.
Who needs a distracted US Coast Guardsman whose responsibility it is to protect America’s coastlines from illegal drugs to be worried about how to provide food and other basic needs for his/her family when headed out for six-month deployment? America doesn’t.
Who needs a distracted CBP/ICE agent whose responsibility it is to enforce immigration laws and maintain security along our borders to be worried about paying college tuition for their son/daughter? America doesn’t.
To add further insult to injury, these furloughed workers must come to work every day and be verbally abused by an angry public who have been forced to stand in long lines and experience longer waiting periods for services due to the government shutdown. I can only hope they see the vital nature of their jobs concerning the security of our nation. They do not deserve this. America does not deserve this. If the reason for this shutdown boils down to security, I will submit to you that we are in many ways less secure as a nation than we were before. This is an irony only Washington, D.C. could create.
12. So Jeroboam and all the people came to Rehoboam on the third day, as the king had directed, saying, “Come back to me the third day.” 13. Then the king answered them roughly. King Rehoboam rejected the advice of the elders, 14. and he spoke to them according to the advice of the young men, saying, “My father made your yoke heavy, but I will add to it; my father chastised you with whips, but I will chastise you with scourges!” (2 Chronicles 10:12-14)
It is not difficult to find advice. People are always ready to tell you what you should do and what you should not do. People are always ready to tell you how you should do anything. With so much free advice floating around, there must be some type of litmus test to determine what advice we will accept. When it comes to accepting advice, two questions must be asked – “Does this advice match God’s Word?” and “Does this person have my best interests in mind?”
Rehoboam became the king of Israel upon the death of his father, Solomon. Shortly after assuming the throne, Rehoboam was approached by Jeroboam, a former servant of Solomon. Jon behalf of the people, Jeroboam made one request of the new king. His request was to, “lighten the burden and rule less harshly than your father did and we will serve you.” Rehoboam asked counsel from two groups. The advice of the elders, his father’s servants, was to serve the people and in return they would serve the king. The advice of the younger men, those Rehoboam grew up with, was to make the lives of the people more difficult. He chose the counsel of the younger.
Throughout the course of our lives we will receive conflicting advice. Our challenge will be to listen to the advice that is biblical and leads us to a decision that honors God. We should not allow pride or peer pressure to get in the way of the sound counsel God has made available through the wisdom of others. Back to our story. Refusal to accept wise counsel can bring about unintended and unforeseen consequences. Jeroboam returned for the king’s answer. Hearing the load and burden would be made more oppressive under the rule of Rehoboam, Jeroboam rebelled, and the nation of Israel was divided. Rehoboam remained king over Judah and Jeroboam became leader of the kingdom of Israel. Advice is good, but wise and godly advice is best. Be careful who you let in your ear.
Those who know me know I enjoy reading. Regardless of where I am there is usually a book nearby. Because of this, I am asked often, “What are you reading now?” I enjoy this question and am always happy to share and make recommendations. As I have mentioned in earlier posts, I do not set numerical reading goals. The climate of the church often guides my reading. I do however have a framework that further guides my reading. I run from fiction. Topics such as church health, church growth, leadership, missions, and church revitalization account for much of my reading. Why these? I have devoted my life to the local New Testament church and yearn to see her and her people grow and flourish. I generally read at least one missionary biography a year. I am always reading something from the Commandant of the Marine Corps’ Recommended Reading List – Once a Marine, Always a Marine. In addition to the academic reading I will do for sermon preparation and other Bible studies, listed below is my reading list for 2019 and what I hope to learn this year.
- Small Church Essentials; Field Tested Principles for Leading a Healthy Congregation of Under 250 by Karl Vaters. It is commonly known that approximately 85% of a Southern Baptist churches average 100 or less in morning worship attendance. We are a convention of small churches. The church I pastor, First Baptist Church of Perry, Florida is just below that threshold – about 180. I want to learn more about the unique challenges that are before the small church and how to better lead through those challenges.
- Church Growth Flywheel; 5 Practical Systems to Drive Growth at Your Church by Rich Birch. I have already started this book and I’m in love with it. Birch stresses the importance of capturing the big days on the calendar, the wisdom of sermon series, and the necessity of the church being seen in the public in service. I want to learn more about building and maintaining momentum throughout the year.
- PR Matters; A Survival Guide for Church Communicators by Justin Dean. If you don’t accurately tell people who you are and what you stand for as a church, people will formulate their own opinions and judgments about who you are – often incorrectly. I want to learn how to better tell the story of what FBCP stands and where we’re going.
- How to Break Growth Barriers; Revise Your Role, Release Your People, and Capture Overlooked Opportunities for Your Church by Carl F. George and Warren Bird. As churches grow, certain numerical markers introduce a new set of challenges, needs, and adjustments: barriers of 200, 400, 800, and 1000. This book deals with nuts and bolts stuff about moving from one barrier through another. I want to learn what may be keeping us around the 200 barrier and what adjustments must be made to push through.
- ReClaimed Church; How Churches Grow, Decline, and Experience Revitalization by Bill Henard. There is a strong movement today across Southern Baptist life to reclaim and revitalize dying churches. To be honest, FBCP is at a plateau state in terms of growth. Henard’s books offers a look into the life stages of church, why they die, and steps to becoming healthy once again. I want to learn where we as a church may be on what Henard describes as a, “death spiral” and actions to take to turn around.
- Leading Major Change in Your Ministry by Jeff Iorg. I firmly believe big changes will be necessary for not only FBCP to be more effective in our mission as a church and reaching people, but for the New Testament church in America as a whole. I want to learn how to set the stage for long-term growth and how to deal with the inevitable challenges and messy situations change is certain to bring.
- Be Known for Something; Reconnect With Community by Revitalizing Your Church’s Reputation by Mark MacDonald. I am excited about this book. Every church has a reputation; like it or not. Reputation and sometimes earned and sometimes they are assigned incorrectly. The forces that determine how the community sees the church are many. I am certain that FBCP has a similar reputation to many larger downtown First Baptist Churches: self-absorbed, business people only, a rich church. I know this is not the case, but perception and reputation is reality. This is such a burden for me that two of our leadership teams will be reading this book together this year. I want to better understand how we are viewed by our community and how to help them see who we really are.
- It Is Not Death to Die; A New Biography of Hudson Taylor by Jim Cromarty. Taylor was a 19th-century missionary to China. His life of surrender, hard work, sacrifice, and service are well-known today. I want to learn more about that kind of life.
- ReMission; Rethinking How Church Leaders Create Movement by Gary Comer. Here we are reintroduced to the mission of the church and the responsibility that every Christian has in seeing that mission fulfilled. Comer challenges church leaders to create positive and consistent movement toward the mission we have been given. I want to learn how to reinforce the importance of God’s people being outwardly mobilized and how to communicate that truth better.
- Neptune’s Inferno; The U.S. Navy at Guadalcanal by James D. Hornfischer. This is my selection from the CMC Reading List. The Battle for Guadalcanal in 1942 had long been thought to be a Marine victory. Hornfischer’s work details the U.S. Navy’s contribution to what turned out to be the most pivotal naval campaign of the Pacific War during World War II. Like I said earlier, Once a Marine, Always a Marine.
If any of these titles interest you, I would enjoy the opportunity to read along with you and study together.
Today is Christmas. It will be a day filled with activity. Children will open the gifts from under their trees that have taunted them for weeks. Families will gather with those they have not seen in a long time. Others will gather in houses of worship to celebrate the birth of the Savior promised by prophet of old. For the vast majority, the thoughts and focus of today will be on the cultural aspects and traditions of Christmas. They will miss the One who is Christmas. Our generation would not be the first to miss this One. In their song, “While You Were Sleeping’, Casting Crowns wrote of the prospect of missing Jesus at Christmas:
Oh little town of Bethlehem
Looks like another silent night
Above your deep and dreamless sleep
A giant star lights up the sky
And while you’re lying in the dark
There shines an everlasting light
For the King has left His throne
And is sleeping in a manger tonight
Oh Bethlehem, what you have missed while you were sleeping
For God became a man
And stepped into your world today
Oh Bethlehem, you will go down in history
As a city with no room for its King
While you were sleeping
While you were sleeping
Bethlehem physically slept. It was a quiet night in Bethlehem, much like every other night. No one was expecting anything special to happen. While they slept, prophecies that would shape the course of human history were being fulfilled in their quaint little hamlet. While the residents of Bethlehem slept, the Savior of the world was born in a lowly stable with no fanfare, no attention, and no honor due a King. While the residents of Bethlehem slept in peaceful dreaming, the landscape of their world was changed forever. Together the stars and the angels proclaimed the birth of the Christ-child with no applause from man. The residents of Bethlehem secured a place for themselves in history as, “a city with no room for its King.” They go on to write:
Oh little town of Jerusalem
Looks like another silent night
The Father gave His only Son
The Way, the Truth, the Life had come
But there was no room for Him in the world He came to save
Jerusalem, what you have missed while you were sleeping
The Savior of the world is dying on your cross today
Jerusalem, you will go down in history
As a city with no room for its King
While you were sleeping
While you were sleeping
Thirty-plus years after Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem, the people were still asleep. They slept with their eyes wide open. Spiritually cold and indifferent. No concern. No care. No conviction. They slept while the Son of God hung was nailed to a cross. The residents of Jerusalem slept while Jesus died. The residents of Jerusalem slept while the Messiah, the One the religious leaders were looking for, the One they should have recognized, gave His life for the people who cried “Crucify Him.” He came as their writings and witnesses told. He had walked among them, performed miracles, taught, and loved. He testified that to have seen Him meant to have seen the Father. He yielded. He died. While they were mocking, He was forgiving. While they were callous and unconcerned, their eternity was on His mind. While they claimed He was a liar, the Father proved the truthfulness of His testimony. The residents of Jerusalem secured a place for themselves in history as, “a city with no room for its King.” Before we take the residents of Bethlehem and Jerusalem to task on their failure to recognize and worship Jesus Christ, notice again the words of Casting Crowns:
United States of America
Looks like another silent night
As we’re sung to sleep by philosophies
That save the trees and kill the children
And while we’re lying in the dark
There’s a shout heard ‘cross the eastern sky
For the Bridegroom has returned
And has carried His bride away in the night
America, what will we miss while we are sleeping
Will Jesus come again
And leave us slumbering where we lay
America, will we go down in history
As a nation with no room for its King
Will we be sleeping
Will we be sleeping
We are a sleeping nation. In broad daylight with the sun shining brightly, we sleep. With the complete thoughts and mind God written for us revealing our sin, pointing us to the cross, and calling us to die to self, we sleep. Lullabies of tolerance, coexistence, and compromise rock our nation to sleep every night. Lullabies of “many paths to God”, “man is his own god”, and “feed what makes you feel good” enable a nation to peacefully sleep. Violence, hate, fear, and greed are the most newsworthy items of our day. We are living in a country where creation is worshiped over the Creator. We live in a country where trees, animals, and other things that do not bear the image of God are elevated above and valued more than human life that does bear the image of God. We live in a country where a person is still judged by the color of their skin. We live in a country where a person is judged by their birthplace. We live in a country where a person is judged based on their economic worth. The most troubling part is that America seems to be sleeping well. What will it take to stir this nation from its sleep? What will happen to our nation if we continue to sleep? How long before God Himself says, “that’s enough” and the Bridegroom splits the sky to receive His own? Will Americans secure for themselves a place in history as, “a city with no room for its King?” We certainly seem to be headed that way.
Today is Christmas. As we spend time with our families, exchange gifts, and share meals together, let’s be reminded of Luke’s words about today.
“Then the angel said to them, Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord”.
I hope this collection of thinkers and ministries will further challenge you to live an on-mission lifestyle. Enjoy.
Read: I recommend Toxic Charity; How the Church and Charities Hurt Those They Help – and How to Reverse It. by Robert Lupton, Founder of Focused Community Strategies. Through 40 plus years of experience in urban ministry, Lupton asserts most charitable work on behalf of churches and other organizations is ineffective, and even harmful to the one it is intended to help. He offers suggestions and practices on how to help connect the individual organization desiring to help with the individual in need, so the recipient can maintain dignity and take control of their own situation.
Follow: Tim Rice. Tim is the Missions Mobilization Director for the South Carolina Baptist Convention. He is passionate about assisting individuals and churches to live missionally and engage their communities, state, and the nations with the gospel of Jesus Christ. I know Tim personally and you will be both encouraged and challenged by what he shares with others. You can find him at @timricesc
Follow: JR Woodward. JR is the director of V3 Movement – a grassroots church planting movement. He also publishes a very insightful and educational online paper regularly at his site. You will certainly be encouraged and informed by his work. It has been a source of encouragement for me. You can find him at @dreamawakener
Get to Know: The Sunshine Girls – a weekly outreach ministry to women who work in the Adult Entertainment Industry in Savannah, Georgia. Their goal is to shine the life-changing light of the Gospel into these dark places. The mission of the organization revolves around establishing relationships and opportunities for another way of life. You can learn more about them here. Pray for the work these women are doing in some very hard and dark places. I am thankful to know one of these Sunshine Girls personally.
Just the Facts: According to Lifeway Research:
86% of Protestant pastors believe Christians have a responsibility to care sacrificially for refugees and foreigners.
When asked to share which single factor has most influenced their beliefs and opinions about immigration, evangelicals provided the following answers:
- Relationships with immigrants – 17%
- Friends and family – 16%
- Media – 16%
- The Bible – 12%
- Their Church – 2%
Have you ever thought about the things that drive you? Have you ever considered what motivates you to do what you do? The need for shelter motivates and drives us to seek a place to live. The need for financial income motivates and drives us to find a job. The need for higher education motivates and drives us to spend extra years in school beyond the required. The need for a healthier body motivates and drives us to exercise and diet. The need for companionship motivates and drives us to the do hard work building and maintaining relationships.
For the love of Christ compels us, because we judge thus: that if One died for all, then all died; and He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again. (2 Cor 5:14-15)
Paul deals with motivation in his letter to the church at Corinth. He was a driven and focused man. Paul tells us the reason for his drive and what motivation, “For the love of Christ compels us”. The love of Christ kept him preaching when no one seemed to be listening. The love of Christ pushed him forward after being beaten and run out of town. The love of Christ kept the churches on his mind while facing his own death. What motivated Paul motivates us today. The love of Christ compels the believer to tell others of a life-changing Savior. The love of Christ compels us to grant and extend forgiveness when the rest of the world simply says, “get even.” The love of Christ compels us to love our fellow man beyond what we can see on the outside. The love of Christ compels us to reach into the darkness of the nations and shine the light of the gospel. This love of Christ looked beyond us while we were lost, rebellious, and indifferent towards God.
Jesus demonstrated what true love looks like. Paul said, “and He died for all, that those who lives should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again.” Paul alludes to his previous motivation. At one time Paul was motivated by pride, hate, and religious tradition. He was living for himself. However, when the love of Christ spilled onto his life and it became personal to him, he quit living for himself. We are no different. At one time we lived for ourselves and did everything that we thought was right and good. The day Jesus stepped into our lives and made us whole, everything changed. We are now under new management. The driving force that compels, urges, prompts, and pushes us to love, witness, preach, teach, and care is the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ.